The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/08/13 at 02:48 AM ET
The Grand Rapids Griffins begin their Calder Cup Final series against the Syracuse Crunch this evening (7 PM EDT on http://www.AHLLive.com--you have to register to watch the games but you don't have to fill out credit card info; Game 2 takes place tomorrow night at 6 PM EDT, and the series shifts to Grand Rapids for three games starting next Wednesday), and to some extent, the Red Wings' management hopes that the Griffins players' progress complicates their off-season plans...
But there's no doubt that the fact that full-time Red Wings-to-be Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson and Danny DeKeyser (who's been cleared to play and will play tonight) have taken part in 2 NHL playoff rounds and will have taken part in 2 more at the AHL level is "a good thing," as Wings GM Ken Holland told the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan:
“It’s very valuable,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland of the young players experiencing a long playoff run. “This isn’t something you can replicate in a development or training camp.”
The best-of-seven series starts in Syracuse.
DeKeyser makes his American Hockey League debut after breaking his right thumb in Game 2 of the first round against Anaheim. He went straight from Western Michigan to the Red Wings without stopping in the minors.
Syracuse is affiliated with the Lightning, whose general manager is Red Wings legend Steve Yzerman.
Full-time Wing-to-be Tomas Tatar's led the Grand Rapids Griffins players' in terms of playoff scoring, having registered 11 goals and 16 points over the course of 18 games, and Tomas Jurco and Luke Glendening aren't far behind with 13 points apiece.
In terms of covering the series, I'm not sure how much you want to "get to know" the Syracuse Crunch.
I don't know about you, but I'm not particularly interested in spending my or your time relating the stories of a team largetly comprised of Tampa Bay Lightning prospects who won the Calder Cup while playing for the Norfolk Admirals last season (the Bolts swapped affiliations and their prospects shuffled off to Syracuse) but theAHL.com's press release regarding the series at hand is a good place to start:
The Syracuse Crunch are in the Finals for the first time in their 19-year history, looking to bring the city its first AHL title since the Syracuse Stars won the championship in the league’s inaugural season of 1936-37. The Crunch are also bidding for a second consecutive Calder Cup for the Tampa Bay Lightning organization; the Bolts were affiliated with the Norfolk Admirals when they won last spring.
Under rookie head coach Rob Zettler, who took over after Jon Cooper was promoted to Tampa Bay on Mar. 25, Syracuse won the East Division during the regular season and has gone 11-1 in the playoffs, sweeping Portland and Springfield in the first two rounds and ousting Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in five games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Second-year pro Ondrej Palat (5-15-20), one of 18 players who skated for both the Crunch and the Lightning in 2012-13, leads the AHL in assists and points (tied) during the playoffs, while regular-season AHL MVP Tyler Johnson has 9-8-17 and a plus-13 rating. Cedrick Desjardins, who has started all 12 playoff games for Syracuse, shows a 1.86 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage in the postseason.
The Grand Rapids Griffins survived two winner-take-all games – including Wednesday’s 5-4 victory over Oklahoma City in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals – to earn the right to play for the Calder Cup for the first time in their 12 seasons in the AHL. The Griffins are the first affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings to reach the Calder Cup Finals since the Adirondack Red Wings won their fourth and final championship in 1992.
Tomas Tatar (11-5-16) and rookies Tomas Jurco (7-6-13) and Luke Glendening (5-8-13) lead the Griffins’ offense through three rounds, while first-year goaltender Petr Mrazek (11-7, 2.18, .921) has recorded a league-leading four shutouts, helping Grand Rapids to series victories over Houston (3-2), Toronto (4-2) and Oklahoma City (4-3).
The Griffins are guided by bench boss Jeff Blashill, who is in his first season as a professional head coach. Blashill, a Michigan native who played (1994-98) and was an assistant coach (1999-2002) at Ferris State and was later head coach at Western Michigan University in 2010-11, joined the Griffins last summer after a season serving as an NHL assistant with the parent Red Wings.
The best-of-seven 2013 Calder Cup Finals begin on Saturday and Sunday at the Onondaga County War Memorial Arena, which will also host Games 6 and 7, if necessary. The middle three games of the series are scheduled for Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich. The entire series will be streamed free on AHL Live (http://www.ahllive.com).
QUICK HITS … Grand Rapids is the first team to reach the Calder Cup Finals without playing a single overtime game in the playoffs since the Milwaukee Admirals in 2006... The Griffins’ Petr Mrazek, who has four shutouts in 18 playoff starts after notching one whitewash in 42 regular-season outings, is the first goalie with four playoff shutouts since Hershey’s Michal Neuvirth in 2009... After Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson rejoined the lineup for Game 4 of the conference finals, Grand Rapids went 3-1 (had lost two of previous three in the series), scored 15 goals in four games (had scored five goals in first three games of the series), and went 6-for-14 on the power play (had gone 0-for-9 to start the series)... Syracuse’s Cedrick Desjardins stopped 101 of 109 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton shots in the Eastern Conference Finals (1.62, .927), and enters the Calder Cup Finals with a career AHL playoff record of 17-5... Sixteen different Crunch players recorded a point vs. the Penguins... Syracuse defenseman Mark Barberio (0-6-6), Grand Rapids defenseman Chad Billins (1-5-6) and Oklahoma City forward Jonathan Cheechoo (1-5-6) tied for the AHL’s third-round scoring lead with six points each... Crunch skaters are scoring on 13.1 percent of their shots on goal this postseason... Syracuse is the 10th consecutive East Division team to represent the Eastern Conference in the Calder Cup Finals, following Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (2004, ’08), Philadelphia (2005), Hershey (2006, ’07, ’09, ’10), Binghamton (2011) and Norfolk (2012)... Grand Rapids reached the Turner Cup Finals once in its five seasons in the International Hockey League, falling to the Chicago Wolves in 2000... Darcy Burchell (first Finals), Jean Hebert (third), Terry Koharski (sixth), Mark Lemelin (first) and Graham Skilliter (second) have been named the referees for the series; John Grandt, Jared Hoffmeyer, Fraser McIntyre, Kiel Murchison, Jud Ritter and Jim Scarpace will be the linesmen.
If you want to watch an 8-minute interview with Crunch forward Philipe Paradis from the Crunch's YouTube channel, or a video practice report from Friday's Crunch practice via the Tampa Bay Lightning, and if you want to read warm fuzzies about the Crunch's players' "leadership" from TampaBayLightning.com's Turner Batten, you may most certainly do so...
But we'll begin a somewhat short survey of the Crunch's press with this take on the unfamiliarity level between teams that didn't battle during the regular season and some boasts from a team that's steamrolled its way through the AHL playoffs from Batten...
“The finals are a little different,” Crunch forward Tyler Johnson said. “You don’t usually face the other team during the season because they are in the other conference so it is hard to tell how you matchup against them.”
Johnson doesn’t believe that matters too much though.
“I like our chances, I like our team and I like where we are at right now,” stated Johnson, who scored his first NHL goal this season with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Both teams entered the 2013 Calder Cup Playoffs as their respective conference’s No. 3 seed. The Crunch finished the season with 97 points, five more than their Western Conference foe.
The Griffins faced a tough path to the finals as they played 18 games before reaching the final series, while it took the Crunch only 12 games to wrap up the Eastern Conference Championship, one more game than the minimum.
Crunch coach Rob Zettler, who took over for Jon Cooper after he was promoted to Tampa Bay, thinks that could play a key role in the series.
“We were able to get a little rest in between and get healthy,” Zettler said. “I think that goes a long way.”
The Syracuse Post-Standard's Lindsday Kramer noted that the Crunch have worked very hard to display an NHL-team-like level of consistency during their playoff run, focusing on the Crunch's response to a loss in the first game of the AHL's Eastern Conference Final.
The Crunch won four straight from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton by a combined score of 16-4. That retort has earned Syracuse a spot in the Calder Cup Finals against Grand Rapids, a series that starts Saturday in the War Memorial.
"I think we've been building this all season,'' Syracuse defenseman J.P. Cote said of his team's ascent to this step. "We struggled at some points. From those moments, we always acted like we were winners. We were never in panic mode. I've been on losing teams. It creeps on you. You start losing, you don't have as much fun. It (a winning habit) is hard to put into words. It's our composure. You can't really over-think it. It's a feeling.''
Zettler calls it "not cheating the play.'' From a micro standpoint, that means doing everything right on each puck roll, each stride, each slice of a game.
From a bigger picture, it means closing out plays and games like Mariano Rivera. The Crunch is a cold-blooded, steely-eyed group of winners and big-moment players who can hunt down success like a blood-hood on a fugitive's trail.
The team isn't perfect, but it doesn't have to be. So far, it's shown a knack for avoiding those season-turning mistakes and making the right choices when they've mattered the most.
"I think what you're describing is why so many of them are going to wind up in the NHL,'' said Tampa Bay assistant general manager Julien BriseBois. "That ability to manage the game. If you have the ability to do that, the coach will have so much faith in you to put you on the ice, I think it's a combination of skill, intelligence and experience. That's why I think the runs we've been on the last two years bode so well for the Tampa Bay organization.''
And Kramer suggested that the Crunch will give Petr Mrazek all that he can handle and then some during the series to come:
Mrazek is a rookie who is getting minutes in this type of showcase for the first time in his career. And his peaks and valleys in the playoffs reflect that growing process.
For example, Mrazek pitched back-to-back shutouts against Oklahoma City in Games 4 and 5 of the Western Conference Finals. But he then allowed four goals each in Games 6 and 7.
Overall in the playoffs, Mrazek is 11-7 with a .921 save percentage, a 2.18 goals-against average and four shutouts. Mrazek has been in pressure situations before, playing for his native Czech Republic in the World Junior Championships.
"Petr Mrazek is somebody who thrives on pressure,'' Griffins coach Jeff Blashill said Friday after practice. "He loves pressure. That's probably his greatest attribute. He knows big moments. He'll handle it great.''
Mrazek will be trying to shut down a Syracuse offense that leads the AHL playoffs with an average of four goals a game.
"We have a little scouting report on him,'' said Syracuse forward Dan Sexton. "We're definitely going to attack him like we've attacked every other goalie. We're not going to take anything for granted just because he's a rookie. A lot of rookies have great seasons.''
Just as Fox Sports Detroit's Art Regner revealed that the Blackhawks press were breaking a cardinal journalistic rule by cheering Blackhawks goals during the second round, you might imagine that the level of partisanship increases as one slides down the professional level. By several orders of magnitude.
Perhaps it's less than surprising that the Grand Rapids Press's David Murray reports that the Grand Rapids Press and Syracuse Post-Standard have placed wagers as to which team will prevail:
This will be an epic clash of West Michigan and Central New York, and the Griffins will prevail. And I’m backing up my boasting.
I reached out to my Syracuse Post Standard and Syracuse.com counterpart and threw down the challenge.
Brent Axe has been a sports commentator in Central New York for over 15 years. He’s been community engagement specialist for Syracuse.com since December, and was previously a radio host in Syracuse on The Score 1260. I held out a package of Grand Rapids pride that I knew he could not resist. In the unlikely event of a Griffin loss, I promised to send Brent:
-- A six-pack of Founders beer, brewed right here in Beer City, U.S.A.
-- A box of delicious chocolate and nuts from Koeze.
-- An official Grand Rapids Griffins cap, which he must wear with pride, at least long enough for a photo posted on his blog.
-- Something really cool from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum gift shop.
Brent took the bait.
“Sure thing,” he wrote. “Sounds like fun.”
His end of the wager?
“We have good craft beers here as well and some yummy local food products, including the world famous Dinosaur BBQ. Yes, BBQ in Syracuse! It’s unreal. I'd be game to do a six-pack of Middle Ages Brew, a Crunch T-shirt, and a variety of Dinosaur BBQ sauces."
Murray also offers a slate of factoids about Syracuse and Grand Rapids as well.
Shifting focus to the Grand Rapids Griffins players' and coaches' perspectives, the biggest news story on Friday involved Danny DeKeyser declaring himself fit to play, as noted by the Grand Rapids Press's Peter J. Wallner...
The touted defenseman, who played 11 games with the Detroit Red Wings before he broke his right thumb and underwent surgery May 7, will be part of the regular rotation Saturday when the Griffins meet Syracuse in Game 1 of the series at 7 p.m. Saturday, June 8.
“It’s been getting better and better since the surgery and it feels right about 100 percent now,” DeKeyser said after the Griffins’ practice at War Memorial Arena.
He said there are no limitations.
“I was shooting fine, taking slappers, making hard passes, taking hits – everything,” he said. “It feels really good.”
Coach Jeff Blashill said DeKeyser will be paired with Brian Lashoff, who also saw playoff action with the Red Wings this postseason.
“Danny is such a good skater that when he steps on the ice, he looks very good right away,” he said of the former Western Michigan star, who was activated Monday and skated informally with the team during practices Tuesday and Wednesday.
“The two things that Danny does are skate great, and he’s really smart,” Blashill said. “Those types of people usually adapt very well to different situations. I expect him to adapt very well coming in to play for us.”
And Wallner covers the "warm fuzzy" department via a profile of Griffins captain Jeff Hoggan:
Jeff Hoggan was a 25-year-old rookie with Houston when the Aeros won the Calder Cup, so he can share with his Grand Rapids teammates what it’s like to hoist the AHL’s biggest prize. He can start with how difficult it is, because that was in 2003 and nearly 700 professional hockey games ago. Hoggan is now 35, captain of the team and the only member of the Griffins to have played in the AHL championship series.
“It has stayed with me,” he said of the 2003 season when Houston defeated Hamilton in seven games and Hoggan contributed three points in 14 postseason games. “It’s been 10 years now, and you think back and go, 'oh, man this is, well, not easy,' but you think there’s more to come. I think this is the one I’ve been waiting to come. In my years, at 35, there might not be many left. This is what you keep playing for.”
After Houston, Hoggan played for four other AHL teams, including Grand Rapids, along with two seasons overseas and 107 career NHL games with three other teams. His best playoff run since was three rounds with Providence in 2007. He sees a lot of similarities between Houston from his youth and Grand Rapids as the elder statesman.
“I think every year is different,” he said. “But this is just a special group, real tight, been through a lot together and I think we’ve got the pieces to complete the task. We just have that (bond) that everybody cares for one another,” he added. “We stick together no matter what and that can go a long way.”
In the multimedia department, I know you're not fans of auto-play interviews, so you can listen to Griffins announcer Bob Kaser speaking with ESPN 96.1's Sean Baligian via an embedded audio player...
But Wallner's interview with DeKeyser is an auto-play one, so you'll have to follow the link to watch it, and the same can be said for a remarkable 15 minutes' worth of interviews with DeKeyser, Hoggan and coach Jeff Blashill from SendtoNews.com.
Shifting focus back to the parent club, in the "player appearance" department, the Wings noted that Niklas Kronwall will serve as the Grand Marshal at the Quicken Loans 400 in Brooklyn, MI:
Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall will be the grand marshal and Olympic gold medalist swimmer Tyler Clary will serve as honorary starter for the Quicken Loans 400 on June 16 at Michigan International Speedway.
Kronwall will give the command of “start your engines” while Clary will wave the green flag to start the Quicken Loans 400.
“We are thrilled to welcome Niklas Kronwall and Tyler Clary to the MIS festivities,” track president Roger Curtis said. “Niklas is an integral member of the Red Wings and the Detroit community who represents the state with pride. As a member of the US Olympic team, Tyler represented our country with pride and we are pleased he will be here with us to wave the green flag.”
Kronwall was the first-round draft pick of the Red Wings in the 2000 NHL entry draft. The Stockholm native helped lead Detroit to a 24-16-8 record this year and an appearance in the Western Conference semifinals. He led all Red Wings defensemen with five goals and 24 assists. Kronwall has garnered a reputation as an open ice hitter, lending to the phrase of “being Kronwalled.”
The defenseman has played in 515 regular season games in the NHL, scoring 54 goals. Kronwall has helped lead the Red Wings to seven playoff appearances, including winning the Stanley Cup in 2008. He won a hockey gold medal at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games for his native Sweden.
Clary, a 24-year-old Olympian and three-time NCAA champion at the University of Michigan, won the gold medal in the 200-meter backstroke at the London Summer Olympics. He defeated fellow American Ryan Lochte in the final and broke Lochte’s Olympic record of 1:53:94, finishing the event in 1:53:41. Clary also swam in the 200-meter butterfly, placing fifth. The racing enthusiast, has won eight medals during his international swimming career.
Kronwall will be the second player to represent the Red Wings as a grand marshal at MIS. Goalie Jimmy Howard acted as grand marshal at last year's Quicken Loan 400. In 2010, former captain Nicklas Lidstrom had the pleasure to drive the official pace car in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 at MIS.
Damien Brunner's a Formula One racing fan, and, as the Montreal Gazette's Dave Stubbs notes, Brunner hung out with pal and Montreal Canadiens forward Raphael Diaz at the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal on Friday:
We’ll get to the part about Kimi Raikkonen toe-dragging Henrik Zetterberg during a hockey practice. Seriously. But first, there’s the matter of Canadiens defenceman Raphael Diaz not yet having driven his own car around Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
“I don’t know that I’d let him drive it, either,” Detroit Red Wings forward Damien Brunner was saying yesterday, needling his friend. “He’s a bad driver.”
“Aw, c’mon,” Diaz protested lightly of Brunner’s harsh critique, throwing his arm over a chair and looking back over his shoulder as he did. “I’d drive in reverse!”
The two Swiss pals were taking a short break from having the experience of a lifetime, red-carpet guests of the Sauber team on the first day of the 44th Canadian Grand Prix on Montreal’s Île Notre-Dame circuit.
“It’s amazing, walking in there, seeing what’s behind the scenes,” [Brunner] said. “There are so many details. It’s crazy what’s going on backstage. It’s pretty cool to get to see all that stuff.”
Neither Diaz nor Brunner had attended any part of a Grand Prix before, and both will be back Saturday for the third practice round and qualifying session as guests of Sauber, a natural connection given that the team is based in Switzerland.
Brunner landed in Montreal on Wednesday, unsuccessfully trying to bring Red Wings teammate Pavel Datsyuk with him.
“I’ve been sending some photos to him today and I’ll bet he’s (peeved),” Brunner said, laughing. “Maybe next time?”
Stubbs shares his Zetterberg story later in his article, and as for Datsyuk, he was busy shooting promotional material for his equipment sponsor, Reebok, at Joe Louis Arena:
In tangentially Red Wings-related news, the first story that follows is one of those, "If you care, go ahead and read it on your own" ones:
- First, the Chicago Tribune's Shannon Ryan asked the Blackhawks how their experiences in rallying from a 3-1 deficit against the Red Wings might prepare them for a similar comeback against the Los Angeles Kings;
- And second, I was a little disappointed to hear that Jim Nill and the Dallas Stars acquired the rights to Sergei Gonchar from the Ottawa Senators, but given the Wings' cap situation (they can probably only realistically decide whether to sign a goal-scoring forward or a top-four defenseman, and Gonchar is a) 39 b) has declined production-wise and c) earned $5.5 million last season), and given that Metallurg Magnitogorsk is bidding for his services as well, the Wings would have screwed up their ability to pursue free agents and retain Brunner, Drew Miller or Danny Cleary...And, quite frankly, with the Wings moving to an Eastern Conference division in which the Ottawa Senators will be a rival, players from the East and especially the current Northeast Division moving West actually benefits the Wings.
Finally, this is a repeat from Friday's afternoon report, but it's worth posting twice. DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose posted a massive article offering observations about and quotes from the vast majority of the 31 players that suited up for the Red Wings this past season, as well as something of a mission statement from Ken Holland, who sounds committed to seeing a two-or-three-season youth movement through:
Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said last week that he has some big decisions to make in the upcoming weeks. With several players set to become unrestricted free agents on July 5 and a few other young players in Grand Rapids out of (waivers) options, Holland hopes to map out a plan when he meets soon with his coaches and pro scouting staff.
“When the season started last year, guys like Brian Lashoff, Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson, Brendan Smith, they were all in Grand Rapids,” Holland said. “Tomas Tatar's in Grand Rapids, we signed Danny DeKeyser, there's five or six players that at the start of the '12-'13 season, weren't on our roster, weren't on our radar screen other than depth.”
Now that these players are on the Wings’ radar, they’d prefer to keep them, especially in a league where more and more general managers are holding onto home-grown talent.
“How many teams in the league made significant moves last year? Obviously, Minnesota,” Holland said. “But that's my point. I think at the end of the day this is a league … we gotta draft and develop.”
There’s likely not another general manager in the NHL who has traded away more first-round draft picks than Holland has in his 16 seasons as the club’s architect. But those days of mortgaging the future to land significant pieces at the trade deadline – like Chris Chelios, Dominik Hasek, Mathieu Schneider and Robert Lang – are long gone, Holland said.
“I think I traded seven first-round draft picks trying to win the Cup. And we won the Cup in '98, '02 and '08, along with '97,” Holland said. “You can't run your team like that anymore. You can't.
“We've gone 22 straight years in the playoffs. We haven't picked in the top 14 since 1993. We don't have a guy coming through the system that I'm going to say to you is a superstar that we can plant in the middle of the locker room. We've got to grow them. We've got Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan and Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar, they've got to come through the system just like Kronwall and Zetterberg and Datsyuk did. There are no quick fixes. Twenty-nine teams want to win just as bad as we do. They're not giving their players away, they're not trading to us for a bag of pucks.”
Roose continues at near epic length, and RedWingsCentral's Matthew Wuest's final prospect ranking of the 2012-2013 season serves as a fine
compliment complement to Roose's take on the parent club's roster.
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About The Malik Report
The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.